Every Hard-Nosed Marketing article published previous to this one implores you to create unique offerings for the various prospect/tenant groups that make up your market. You know that having a commodity offering is a constant struggle. Having done that, it is now time to figure out the best way to get the word out. Below, we get on to the rules of persuasion that we will use in our choice of media.
Many businesspeople blow a lot of money on media in the (false) belief that they are "marketing." I've tried hard to dispel the popular notion that marketing is synonymous with advertising, direct mail, fliers--media. Much needs to be done before it makes any sense to think about media. The preceding articles and the next several passages will describe the most important elements.
Most of that prep effort is time-consuming, but not particularly expensive. The only work needed has to do with the examination of segments among your tenants, any use of computer databases and your analysis time. Now, it's time to figure out how to get word out.
There is a lot of noise confronting media consumers as torrents of promotional flack--TV, newspapers, fliers, etc.--assail us every day. It creates numbness to all appeals for time and money. We need to break through that din. That's the "critical-mass threshold." Aside from any particular message or audience, there often must be perseverance in getting to the critical-mass point (i.e., getting heard).
There is another facet that has the same effect but is caused differently. All of us apply a filter to promotion activity. No matter the technical perfection of an ad, if it isn't connecting with an interest area that I have at the moment, the promotion may as well not exist. If I don't have some need for a car, I "turn off" car ads. This is particularly applicable to self-storage because the personal demand for a self-storage unit usually only occurs occasionally with any one person.
As marketers, we have a limited period of time when the receiver is paying attention and a measure of skepticism on the part of the recipient/prospect that must be overcome. We're often depending on passive sales media (brochures, ads, etc.) to carry our whole sales load. For these reasons, promotion programs need to be maintained at an adequate level and for a period of time to ensure that it will be there when the correct interest level does arrive. But that is not the norm. These conditions limit the kind of activity that can be justified for self-storage.
I Am the Greatest!
Is this the boast of a blowhard? Muhammad Ali's speed and lethal left hook made that boast credible. We didn't snicker. When he said it, we pitied his next opponent.
Every message of any kind needs to be correctly structured to allow it to be believable. There is a very specific way to obviate any reaction that your messages are, well, full of hot air. There may be absolutely nothing wrong with the data/information being presented, but it should be presented in ways that are compatible with the way that we humans receive and process information.
There are two aspects that will direct us. One is the relationship between the basis for a benefit claim (the left hook) and the claim itself; the other is the sequence (steps) in which selling thoughts are presented. First, let's examine the relationship between benefits and their source.
In Two Places at One Time? There is some subtlety here--the distinction about where a given self-storage aspect exists. (This is a little like the tree falling in the forest.) The unit exists in your facility; the user benefits exist in the tenant's mind. Any product is neutral, and it is we, as humans, that assign values of good or bad.
That's what markets are--the views, knowledge, biases, attitudes, etc., of every person in your service area. Markets are what's in all those skulls. We employ surveys to view what's in there and media to modify those attitudes. So, it's not too much of a stretch to say that marketers play mind games. At least it's fair to say that we deal with or try to influence what's in that gray matter.
Another twist is to say that what the buyer pays for is not what he is buying. A tourist is paying for a six-hour lease of a piece of a 747. He is buying a honeymoon with his new bride. A tenant is paying for a 10-by-20 self-storage unit. He is buying entry into a new home. It is the difference between what the offering is vs. what is driving the buyer's mind at the time of purchase. So what part does the marketer need to understand? You know by now.
We're talking about means and ends. The prospect's attitude and needs will frame the benefits to him. That's his "end." The unit is a means to get there. That's how the same unit can have vastly different meanings for members of different segments. The "means" are common, while the ends vary. Marketers want to deal with ends. That is what makes prospects tick.
It is knowledge about how segments behave that is important to marketers. When we can identify segments and learn how they gain value from storage, we have the makings of a marketing program. You become convincing when you talk about the customer's needs. Absent that knowledge, you will find yourself talking about metal, concrete floors, 24-hour access, ceiling height, etc. You're concentrating on your product, not a tenant's use. And you're doing it because you may not really know how each of those different users benefits from your offering. Knowledge about segments or use permits us to communicate with users in their terms. That's selling power.
More on Two Places. Any physical item has a set of characteristics: size, weight, color, shape, or something intangible, such as purchase terms. These are neutral elements at this point. They exist only as a part of the item. However, when they are perceived by the mind, we see that they can take on some kind of value. "Good" or "bad" judgements are additions made by the human mind; they are not inherent in the item. Those additions are known simply as benefits or losses. It is the comparison by the buyer of the benefits compared to the price that will produce action. The promotion methods used to convey those benefits and losses into minds are media.
All good promotions have a core truth. Wild claims are just that--wild--unless the prospect sees that there is substance to the claim. Buyers examine the language of promotions and, wary of puffery, decipher it to determine if the claims are real. A quality can deliver more than one outcome, and a product can have multiple qualities.
All benefits must be supported/presented concurrently with the quality that produces it. Losses must be supported by a "bad" quality. The key is to note that benefits or losses flow from elements of the product.
What inspires the credibility is the presence of the quality that the buyer can see, but is not under the control of the seller. It's there. The sales people can pitch it or spin it, but they can't affect it. The sales job is to be sure the buyer knows and links benefits to buyer needs. (This why the seller must know what those needs are. They can be as varied as buyer types.)
A common sales error is to cite product qualities without translating them into benefits. Draw them a picture. Don't depend on the customer to just "get it" without any help from you. This is especially true of the non-personal sales encounter. Your sales material must carry the whole persuasive load. When in person, you will see the quizzical look, the glazed eyes. Then you can determine what is wrong and retool the presentation. Without the personal touch the sales piece must do it all.
Steps to Any Decision
The other key to marketing is the sequence in which selling thoughts are presented. When I indicate that there are a series of sequential steps that lead to a sale, I didn't create the steps. They are founded in our mental process. Hopefully, as we discuss them, you will recognize that you go through them each time you move toward a decision. They may not exist in tight sequence and may be spread over an extended time, but they are important because all considerations of media are aimed at moving a prospect along this sequential path toward a sale.
The strategies of sales programs use the sequence by asking: What progress have we made? How far along are we in the series of steps? How do we get the prospect to the next step? Regardless of media, our sales effort is continually accessing where we stand in the following sequence. Those steps are:
1. Attention --I must get and then keep your attention before I can communicate with you. That's what the neon is about, the bold headlines, the catchy phrases and, yes, the pretty girls. It can be, and usually is, momentary--maybe a few seconds--but enough to hold you until the next step. The attention-getting action may have nothing to do with our real intention/product. Then, I must move you from the "startle" to my offering and how I can benefit you with it.
2. Interest--When, and only when, I interest you in my subject can I make real progress. I will promise you something--a benefit. That promise must sustain your attention long enough to get you to consider my subject. Then, I must back up my claims with the qualities that produce them. If your interest wanes, I must get it back before I can progress. Some call this the "hook."
It's a tricky step. You must be sufficiently grand in your promise to elicit the interest you're after. Yet over-promising easily leads to unreal expectations from the buyer. Customer satisfaction is based on where the level of expectation starts.
3. Engagement--This is essentially a conversation where you confirm the premise that you believe has led the buyer to you. You explore the conditions that lead to the benefits promised in the previous step. With a salesperson, it is usually a series of questions and prospect answers, eliciting information that will validate the benefits. With non-personal media (direct mail, brochures, etc.), it is that part of the content that often sets up a synthetic dialogue aimed at establishing a need and your product's solution to it.
4. Close--Many sales people falter when it comes to asking for the order. Some wait too long. Some just don't do it and hope that if the benefits are established, it shouldn't be necessary. They wonder, if the benefits are established, why doesn't the customer just ask for one? But they don't, so you must.
When the questions are answered and the benefits are established, it's time. Whether in person or through some kind of non-personal media, a "close" or action-request is needed.
To Whom Are We Talking?
In every sales approach or conversation we're alert to two influences: The customer and the competition. It does no good to sell a prospect on self-storage, only to see them trot across the street to a rival operation. Thus, our market stance needs to link the benefits of self-storage to your facility. Of the two, the tenant is far more important, but to be oblivious to the shopping instincts of buyers is naive.
Next time we will examine the choices of media available to us. There are plenty out there, but only a few will be useful to most facilities in this industry.
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Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career included executive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also owned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at (208) 463-9039.